Freshman point guard Eli Brooks has faced an interesting journey throughout his first season of collegiate basketball at the University of Michigan.
From being the clear starter at point guard at the beginning of the season, Brooks' playing time eventually dwindled to seeing sparse minutes. Zavier Simpson (also known as X) and Jaaron Simmons eventually would usurp him in the point guard pecking order.
While the former Spring Grove High School standout might not publicly admit it, any human would feel the sting of defeat after, essentially, losing his job to someone else.
Brooks, however, believes that his freshman season is all in the master plan of becoming better, and, to take a page out of Joel Embiid's book, he is simply trusting the process.
"Some people might take it as a disadvantage but I take it as a positive thing," Brooks said recently. "You get to learn the game, even though I'm not playing, I get to learn the plays and get to see the things in practice and really just take away from the older guys. There's always going to be that feeling (of discouragement) but you just have to trust the process. I feel like I did well, I think winning helped a lot with that. Just whatever helps the team win, it's been working."
Michigan in Final Four: The Wolverines (32-7) have certainly won. In fact, the Big Ten Tournament champions are riding a nine-game winning streak and have made it all the way to the Final Four in San Antonio. In Saturday's national semifinal, the Wolverines will take on upstart Loyola-Chicago (32-5).
If recent history is any guide, however, Brooks will likely see little or no playing time in San Antonio. He's played only a few minutes during Michigan's NCAA run. He's struggling to shoot the ball, making 30 percent from the field, including 24 percent from 3-point range. He's averaging 1.9 points per game over 29 games played.
Still, in order to earn a dozen starts over Simpson and Simmons early in the season, U-M head coach John Beilein and assistant DeAndre Haynes had to have seen something that made both coaches give so much trust to a true freshman.
While the trust is still there, both Simpson and Simmons have ascended into the roles the coaching staff envisioned for the two players at the beginning of the season. Now, Brooks is lagging behind ever so slightly, which is to be expected for a player that's essentially learning on the fly.
Too much thinking: With Brooks ready if his number is called, Haynes knows that the young point guard can provide a spark in emergency situations. With that being said, he is still waiting for the day that Brooks stops thinking and starts playing the way he knows he can.
"I told Eli when he first got here that he was just playing, he was being himself," Haynes said. "I actually talked to Coach (Beilein) about making the decision between him and Zaiver. He is one of our most solid point guards. He was getting in and making the right plays, this was before Hawaii (in late November). He was out there playing and making the right reads.
"Now, you've got a guy like Zavier Simpson coming off the bench, he sees some things X is doing and we had to switch it back. We had X starting and Eli come off the bench. Now, what I see from him is freshman. When I was a freshman, you make those freshman mistakes. He tends to start thinking too much.
"We've still got a lot of basketball left and I keep telling him that you need to continue to grow. You've got to keep learning from film, keep learning from practice. Don't overthink things."
Becoming a student: Haynes has seen first hand the reaction Brooks had after losing his starting job. Naturally, the young point guard was disappointed but realizes it's part of the game.
Like many of the point guards that came before him, Brooks is now put into the position to become a student. Just like Simpson learned from the point guards before him, Brooks now has a role model to mold his game after.
There's only so many things Haynes can attempt to teach Brooks. However, he realizes the valuable resources Brooks has at his disposal.
Not hanging his head: "He would never hang his head, he's a freshman who is always willing to learn," Haynes said of Brooks. "We talk all the time about things in practice that he's always doing wrong, things he should be doing better.
"Coach Beilein does a great job of holding him accountable along with myself, you've got to take care of the ball and you've got to be able to make this shot and make this read. He's a sponge right now, taking everything in.
"I love the growth of him and the way that he's learning from X the way X learned from (former Michigan guard) Derrick Walton. Sometimes that's what it takes, you have to learn from these older guys and he's learned a lot from them right now.
"I told him, you're not a freshman no more. At this stage right now you're a sophomore, now it's time to start picking the game back up. We're going to need you, just like I told Jaaron Simmons, he's one of our older guys but X is the guy that always started off for us. When you get in, just make the right plays.
"We're going to need every last one of you guys to win a national championship and that's what it's going to take."
Josh Henschke is managing editor of The Michigan Insider.